Work had started on the Jamestown Dam early in 1952 although planning was still going on in September.

At least some major decisions were still being made.

Phil Ehrenhardt, construction engineer for the project, was making the circuit of the local service clubs explaining how the dam would be built but more importantly, what its purpose would be.

Ehrenhardt told the local Rotary club that the dam would include facilities allowing the addition of a power plant to produce electricity at some later time.

“The Jamestown Dam is small as a dam goes,” Ehrenhardt said. “… the only difference between the dam here and Garrison, outside of size, is the fact that Garrison will generate power.”

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Evidently the local governments decided the cost of hydro-electric power outweighed the costs.

Without electric production, officials said irrigation was the most important function of the Jamestown Dam..

The irrigation was planned for downstream in the LaMoure and Oakes area. The ideal situation would have been waters released from the Jamestown Dam would turn turbines producing electricity and then be captured 50 miles downstream for crop irrigation.

Even without these features, the dam had some impressive statistics.

Plans called for a packed earth structure 1,400 feet long, 618 feet wide at the base and 109 feet from the bedrock to the top of the dam.

The construction bid was awarded to C.F. Lytle Co. for $1.9 million. The work that began in 1952 was completed in 1953 nearly a year ahead of deadline. Adjusted for inflation, the cost would be about $18 million today.

Almost lost in the all the talk about irrigation and electrical generation was the most important function the Jamestown Dam has served over the years.

“He also listed flood control as one of the major aspects in which the bureau is interested,” wrote The Jamestown Sun.

Four of the five highest crests at the Jamestown Dam have occurred in the past 10 years. The peak was in April 2009 at 1,454.1 feet above sea level. Officially, the lake level reaches the “glory hole” or emergency spillway until 1,454 feet above sea level.

By holding that water back, the flows down the river could be controlled through planned water releases. This reduces but doesn’t eliminate any chance for flooding.

On a daily basis, the Jamestown Dam is better known as a recreational space. The lake formed by the dam includes about 2,100 acres of water for fishing, boating and water sports.

Between flood control and recreational uses, the Dam has served a useful purpose even if it isn’t generating electricity or irrigating crops..

Not a bad return on investment for $1.9 million.

Author Keith Norman can be reached at